'Essential' flights resume at Tirana Airport amid strike

·2 min read

TIRANA, Albania — Albania’s infrastructure minister on Thursday said that “essential” flights have resumed at the country’s only international airport following a strike by air traffic controllers.

Belinda Balluku said that essential flights — humanitarian, emergency, health, diplomatic, state and military — have resumed, while commercial flights will start Friday morning.

The minister did not say whether air traffic controllers have resumed work or officials have hired foreign ones to replace them.

About two dozen Albanian air traffic controllers have been questioned by police on suspicion of abuse of post following their strike over a pay dispute, a lawyer and the prosecutor’s office said on Thursday.

Albania’s government on Wednesday sent troops and police to clear striking controllers out of the flight control tower and their offices.

Twenty-four controllers, out of 65 in total, were questioned by police overnight, according to lawyer Rezart Kthupi.

Tirana prosecutor’s office said if they are convicted of abuse of post they could face up to seven years in prison.

The airport suspended 19 flights on Wednesday. The civilian air traffic controllers had said their “incapability of working under stress” would continue for 24 hours.

Prime Minister Edi Rama said the strike was illegal.

“There is no chance that destructive forces, absolutely blind forces, forces of the past who want by all means to take the country hostage, stop us,” said Rama at a meeting with supporters in southern Albania.

The controllers’ union says their pay has been cut by 62% over the past year due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the same period, Albania’s air traffic has fallen by 57%, according Balluku.

The minister said air traffic controllers are paid $2,490 a month — five times the country’s average salary of about $500.

The strike also turned into a political issue. The government accused the opposition and President Ilir Meta of inciting the strike, while the latter rejected the accusation, saying that Rama is exploiting anything in advance of the April 25 elections.

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Llazar Semini, The Associated Press